“We will never bring disgrace to this, our city, by any act of dishonesty or cowardice, nor ever desert our suffering comrades in the ranks. We will fight for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many.
“We will revere and obey the city’s laws and do our best to incite a like respect and reverence in those above us who are prone to annul or set them naught. We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public sense of civic duty. Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this city not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”
The Ephebic Oath sworn by young Athenian men becoming citizens.
The cascading events of the last weeks—the GATE decision, the deafening silence to the call by Senator Anthony Vieira to reform the four service commissions, the unveiling of the Port of Spain revitalisation plan and the ongoing saga of the Venezuelan migrants—all speak to a governance crisis.
Are our accountability frameworks providing the sanctions and rewards needed to guide public sector performance and, therefore, economic development and social equity? Or are we heading downwards in a spiral where we and our governments become more than ever the quintessential rent collectors, engaging in the inappropriate allocation of services financed by inefficient revenue collection mechanisms, which exacerbate further the poor delivery of public services?
Will we pass on our country in a more beautiful form than we met it? What are the measurable improvements in our quality of life we seek to achieve?
Both the GATE and the PoS plan raise issues of social equity, even while clothed in apparent good intentions. What good will a means test do if our primary schools underperform and despair cloaks our poor youths? How do we right the systemic injustice embodied in the educational system?
In 2012, Dr Tim Goopeesingh, discussing the worst-performing schools (14 out of 25 in the Port of Spain district), noted these reflected ‘home problems … negative climate and culture of the schools’. A third of all 9-year-olds were reading below the benchmark.
By June 2013, the minister shocked us with the news that of a 3,000 pre and primary school student national sample tested for neurodevelopment, 56% and 78% respectively were not processing information at the target level. Yet we are surprised at the efficiency of the crime factory, the burgeoning homelessness and our struggle to innovate.
Is it that we cannot make the link between our schools’ performance and the ability of our nation to move forward? Is it that we do not know the research that shows that our future earnings are set before we hit the age of 25?
The World Social Report 2020 is a good place to begin. Among other things, it says: “the neighbourhood level, the availability and quality of public services, including schools, is lower in poorer neighbourhoods that also suffer from higher crime rates, limiting prospects for mobility.” (Chetty et al, 2014; Durlauf and Seshadri, 2017).
What is the difference in substance between the land giveaway in Chaguaramas and the inducements to ‘unlock private capital’ in the PoS plan? One developer brazenly said: “If I am going to invest …then you have to give me something…”
Another business leader adopted the NYC/Trumpian ‘move on’ posture re our homeless population. It is dangerous to allow private entities to shape public spaces and guide public policy since the public good and their interests will not always coincide, which can hurt the most vulnerable.
Afra Raymond asked a most pertinent question: “Who is really being invited back into Port of Spain, and on what terms?” The context for this is the possible property pricing, given the size of available land in the city, even with ‘sensible constraints on height, density and building coverage’.
It is estimated that nearly one in five of our national population comes in daily to Port of Spain and of that, 40% are employed with the government. So who can buy what? But MPs Fitzgerald Hinds and Adrian Leonce hinted at what is being offered to the residents of East Port of Spain last week. More anon.
The gross disrespect of the Port of Spain mayor to a homeless man— ‘don’t live on the streets’— is reflected in the state’s attitude towards the unfortunate migrants. Without adjudicating on the legalities, there is an apparent lack of institutional capacity to weave our way through the thicket of international laws and agreements. Is this the result of the denuding of the foreign affairs ministry in recent years?
How can we restore life and vibrancy to our country without proper governance? We have to resolve this large issue, otherwise what we transmit to the young will be worse than we received.